By Eliza Gray
June 25, 2015

Authorities in Charlotte, N.C. are investigating a fire at a predominantly black Baptist church as arson, the Charlotte Fire Department has said.

The Briar Creek Road Baptist Church’s co-pastors Mannix Kinsey and his wife Rhonda Kinsey, are African American, and most of the roughly 100 parishioners at the church are black, reports The Charlotte Observer. Investigators are looking into whether it may have been a hate crime.

Authorities are on high alert over possibly racially-motivated crimes after the murder of nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17th, and there is a long history of arson against black churches in the U.S. The most infamous may be the fire that killed four little black girls at a black church in Birmingham, Alabama in September of 1963, an event that brought widespread national attention to the civil rights movement.

But there was a spate of such crimes across the South in the 1990s. The U.S. Justice Department began an investigation in 1996 into a string of arson attacks against historically black churches in the south over a period of several months, including Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina.

TIME called it “a national epidemic of violence against black churches,” and reported on President Clinton’s visit to a burned and rebuilt church in Greeleyville, South Carolina, and on the Republican-led House passage of a bill that would make it easier for the federal government to prosecute the crimes.

Kinsey, the pastor of Briar Creek, told local media he hoped the fire was not motivated by racial hatred. “We are still talking about this same issue and this is 2015,” he said. “We all have to consider what else do we need to do to actually be able to work together.”

[Charlotte Observer]

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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